Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of Why This Way?
There are multiple purposes of this group. One of the main goals is to create an organized religious institution whose institutional structure is in harmony with the belief system it represents. Another goal is to promote greater respect in the public dialogue about religion and other topics. Another goal is to address or solve problems in society and build a healthier society.
Is Why This Way a religion? How is or isn't it?
When we started Why This Way, we identified it as a religion, but we have since established that we do not have a consensus about whether or not it is a religion. Different people have different ideas of what constitutes a religion. Some of the people who were instrumental in founding Why This Way have always been skeptical of calling the group a religion, and/or do not identify Why This Way as their religion.
We initially chose to call our group a religion because it presents a system of beliefs and practices encompassing all aspects of life, because the system of beliefs and practices is tied to a culture and a human organization to represent it, and because we believed that calling it a religion could make it more powerful for transforming people's lives and society. We also discussed the potential of constitutional protection and various freedoms given to religious groups in the US, and felt that our group fit within the spirit of these legal rights.
Common alternative terms to "religion" often seem to misrepresent what Why This Way is at least as much as the word religion does. The term "social movement", which we have discussed, has a political connotation, whereas Why This Way avoids political struggle. Terms like belief system, philosophy, or life philosophy capture the belief system aspect of the group, but do not capture the organizational aspect. We sometimes refer to Why This Way as a "belief system and organization"; this term is more cumbersome but captures more of what the group is.
Our page on religion explores these topics more.
How is this different from Unitarian Universalism?
Why This Way shares many similarities with Unitarian Universalism (UU). Both groups embrace the inherent worth of all people as a core belief, and both encourage people with a broad range of beliefs to come together under a common umbrella. Why This Way differs from UU, however, in a few key ways. It may be helpful to refer to the Unitarian Universalist Principles for comparison.
Some of the key differences include:
- UU values the democratic process, looks to promote the democratic process in society at large, and uses the democratic process within its own congregations; Why This Way is not democratically run, and instead emphasises a consensus-based model of decisionmaking which is inspired by the Wikipedia's Consensus Process and the Quaker (Society of Friends) Consensus Process. Our page on consensus further explains our particular approach to consensus.
- UU emphasizes justice; Why This Way is cautious about the concept of justice. Different people have different ideas of what constitutes justice, and the question of justice can be highly controversial. Justice is also tied to a notion of how things "should" be, a framework for thinking and communicating about things that Why This Way avoids. The core beliefs in Why This Way, to contrast, are framed in terms of a healthy state of being for people and society, which do not reference any notion of justice or human rights.
- Why This Way has a detailed and involved set of rules of communication that guide the group's meetings, discussions, and official literature. The rules are often seen as one of the most important aspects of Why This Way and one of the defining features of the group. Although many of the beliefs and practices of UU may mesh closely with some of the goals and intentions behind these principles, and although UU's may embrace some of these practices on their own, there is no analogue of these rules in UU.
What do you believe in?
Our group has an official set of core beliefs which is continuously evolving, and which we agree upon by consensus, and we also have collected and developed a broader range of beliefs in the general text of our wiki, as well as in the cultural knowledge of our group. But we do not require anyone to agree with all of our beliefs in order to participate in our group. People active in our group hold a wide range of differing beliefs, both on spiritual matters, and about how the world works.
We often see the rules of communication as more central than our beliefs; these rules explain our beliefs about what we see as respectful and truthful dialogue, which to a degree also explains how we view and understand truth and reality. Much of the beliefs implicit in these rules revolve around an underlying idea that truth can only be imperfectly (subjectively) understood by people, and that through conscious awareness of the subjectivity of our own viewpoints, and through acknowledgement of nuances and complexities introduced by other perspectives, we can have more truthful and respectful dialogue.
We also have collected a set of starting points for understanding our belief system, as well as a set of core practices which we have agreed on as ways we want to live our lives and encourage others to live.
How does your organization work?
The overall structure of our group is highly decentralized and without authority figures, although people are able to take on specific responsibilities and create structure for practical reasons, as the group agrees on it by consensus. Although there are no formal authority figures, some people are highly involved in the group and there are a much larger number of people that are more tangentially involved.
Meetings are central to the group; there are both regular meetings and spontaneous meetings; meetings must have at least three people, and currently have no upper limit but have generally been small (under 12 people). In order to act as an organization, or modify any of our core beliefs and practices, there is an eight-day waiting period to give time for people not present at the meeting to consider and/or discuss any resolution, and potentially object.
Much of the activity related to the group takes place outside of official meetings, in individual and casual conversations, and activities like people editing the wiki individually or when corresponding or talking casually.
We are currently unincorporated and do not handle any money as an organization, although we have been developing an accounting system and policies and methods for handling money for the future.
How can your group maintain any cohesiveness without requiring people to follow your beliefs or practice your practices?
One of our core practices is that we do not expect people who participate in or identify with Why This Way to agree with all our beliefs or follow all our practices. When initially learning about our group, people often ask how we can maintain any integrity or cohesiveness to our group when we do not expect or require anything of people outside of meetings. (We do require people to follow the rules of communication and process of communication during official meetings.)
This belief flows from a core idea in Why This Way, which is that we want people to do good things out of their own self-motivation, rather than from a sense of obligation or fear of punishment. We thus want to avoid coercing or pressuring people to do good things, and instead lead people through a process of questioning and self-discovery. This is both because we see coercion as something unhealthy, and also because when people are pressured to do something, they often resist or backlash, so the pressure can have the opposite of the desired effect. We believe that refraining from coercion or pressure to believe or practice is, in the long-run, a more sustainable and effective way at promoting our beliefs and practices.
This practice also is related to our philosophy of continually questioning and refining our beliefs and practices. If we were to keep people out of our group who had differing beliefs, it would limit our ability to incorporate new ideas and perspectives into our group. We want people who have different beliefs to come into our groups both so we can influence these people, and be influenced by them.